Another note on passive learning

Motivation Hurdle: Another note on passive learning.

Greetings all. I felt like posting this after having an interesting conversation in Japanese recently. But I must preface this post with a disclaimer, that a lot of people probably aren’t aware of.

I barely study Japanese.

I’m dead serious. Most of the time, I am mentally occupied with work, or creative projects that require a lot of brain power. The last time I took up a Japanese text book, read about grammar or did anything remotely similar to SRSing is hard for me to remember. I definitely know that maybe two months ago I had a burst of inspiration and went back into my Kanji learning, but I didn’t have the energy to keep it up. That said, I find it fascinating to see that I’m learning anyway through a sort of passive approach.

The last time I’ve had a conversation longer than three minutes in Japanese I cannot remember either.

Anyways, I was trolling through Craigslist group forums, looking for any interesting new activities to find here in Tokyo, and I saw someone talking about doing a Skype language exchange. I contacted the person and was chatting in Japanese with her for about an hour. Now, the fact that I could keep up and understand her was a big revelation for me. I know some people might think that with all the posts I have on this site, and how I detailed methods and so on that I’ve been doing this consistently, but that’s the problem.

I haven’t been consistent at all.

I should write more about “motivation hurdles” because I’ve hit them so many times and stopped so many times I wondered why I was studying Japanese in the first place. But every now and then, I get this “spark” which shows me that I am not as far behind, as horrible, or as low-level as I think.

The person I was chatting to on Skype is a young woman who wants to become a Japanese teacher. She spent a little time in the states, so her English is okay, but in Japanese we spoke about studying Japanese through immersion, why she wanted to be a teacher and a little bit about my design aspirations. What I found in this conversation was that, I didn’t hit too many snags because I had command of a few key phrases.

1. How do you say ~ in Japanese? (nihongo de ~ nan to ii?/nan to imasu ka?)

2. I want to say this but I am not sure if it is right…. (watashi ni nihongo no koto hansetai dakedo, chotto chigau to omouyo.)

3. To tell you the truth….(honto no koto to ii …)

Either way, again, I could see that me, a person who barely speaks or reads Japanese to a high enough extent to call it “studying” could be chatting like that, meant something was working. But the end goal is still elusive for me.

Ideally、I’d like to do this full-time. If one 45 minute conversation went so well, what could I learn from ten such conversations? From fifty? In weeks I could be at a significantly higher level of self-expression. But my problem is time and motivation.

A career of any kind in Japan will eventually require a near fluent reading, writing and speaking ability to remain here. For me, who has dreams of being a graphic designer here in Tokyo, this seems possible, but cloudy. As I’ve said many times before, I mentioned the AJATT system as a sort of template here for my original learning process, but I am REALLY bad at keeping up with it. Not because the system doesn’t work, I am just distracted and it, like most learning systems, requires a lot of focus.

I work in a Japanese JHS, so I hear Japanese all day. However, I rarely speak with the Japanese staff, in any language :p. After listening to Japanese all day, I usually have no desire to listen, watch or consume any other Japanese media after I get home. This is my sticking point with studying and motivation. Some could say that my isolated way of working makes forcing more Japanese into my mind a bitter pill, and they would probably be correct.

I’m seriously considering just being a student for a few weeks to get my speaking up, and focus only on that. A few hours a day of speaking and listening comprehension with people (not just mp3’s and videos) I feel would be awesome. But again, motivation.

Despite this ramble, I realize that I am learning. My mind is still connecting some patterns and learning to link words faster. I remember being in a 7-11 recently and I bought some tempura for lunch. I also bought some orange juice. The lady behind the counter rapidly said to me (I mean RAPIDLY ) “ohashi to sturawu ga ii?” (chop sticks and straw okay?) I nodded yes, without realizing

1) How fast she had spoken

2) How I had heard it clearly at native level speech.

This is not to say I understand everything, but I found it interesting nonetheless. The language is definitely not alien to me anymore, and after almost being here for two years now, I realize I am getting used to the culture as well.

A big part of why I don’t study much is because I keep thinking I am going to leave. I thought I was leaving in the summer this year, and had no desire to study. Now I think I might leave in March, and am not sure how much effort I really want to put (around my writing, graphic design and video work) into any intense learning process.

You see, there are two kinds of students of the language here in Japan. People that leave from their own countries and come here JUST to study Japanese. These people I sometimes envy, because it’s a simpler reason to be in a foreign country to only study the language. Less pressure, hopefully more fun.

Then there are people like me, who come here and MUST study Japanese, meaning, if you want to mentally function, somewhat communicate with people and not go crazy, you need a basic handle on the language. But people like me must learn the language around work. IF you had loads of free time, you are fine, but if you are busy, its “chotto taihen”, or difficult.

There are also people who have lived here for many years who barely speak the language because they live and work in cities in jobs with English speaking staff. These people fascinate me.

Technically I wanted to come here to learn Japanese as well (despite having a job), but as I noted in a blog or two, culture shock hit me VERY hard when I came here, effectively nullifying my desire to learn the language. In fact、for my first eight months in Japan I didn’t study anything, it was all passive, all crashing and burning with my main reference book being How to make out in Japanese. Of course this provided me with some basic language skills, and I feel lucky because I think I have a natural aptitude for language, so I was able to get by.

Even so, over the last six months I believe I’ve spoken less Japanese than the first three months I was in Japan (in terms of hours).

I’d say the moral of the story here is to keep talking anyway, but don’t do what I did. Chat with people in groups, make notes and try not to get burnt out. I think I am a special case because I have an unusual amount of creative output which occupies almost all my time.

Either way, we will see. Maybe there is hope for me yet. I’ll post a short clip of me chatting in Japanese if people are interested.

Cheers

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About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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One Response to Another note on passive learning

  1. Paul Nogas says:

    Hey Marcus, I’m finally settled in Ashikaga now and I will be posting those comments I promised. Hope the new year has been good to you so far.

    – “After listening to Japanese all day, I usually have no desire to listen…” I can understand that. It’s like mixing your social life and your work. I once lived with a student in a culinary arts program who would make KD or just order fast food when he got home. He told me “I cook all day, I don’t want to have to do it when I get home too.”

    -“A big part of why I don’t study much is because I keep thinking I am going to leave.” It’s funny, at the moment that is motivation for me. I expect to stay only the year, so I want to get good enough fast so I can actually make use all the effort and time I have put in so far.

    “I am a special case because I have an unusual amount of creative output which occupies almost all my time.” This makes me feel optimistic about my job. I feel that my current job is not something I want to do in the long term, so if given the option of extra work or study Japanese, I’ll probably choose Japanese. But I can relate, this is likely one of the reasons my study of Japanese was so poor in university. I actually wanted to learn/work on those things since I expect to have a future in them.

    – I have a similar story to the 7-11. My first time in a 7-11 they said something fast and after some charades I realized that they asked me if I wanted the meal warmed. Ever since I always hear the atatakai (or similar conjugation) mainly because I am expecting it. I think we do this in English too and don’t realize it. We already make a list of several expected responses in our mind which allows us to understand each other while speaking so rapidly. And that is what is killing me with understanding Japanese presently. I don’t know where one word stops and the other begins since I don’t know what I am looking for to expect.

    I’m pretty much one of those people that came JUST to learn the language…so hopefully that is a good sign.

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